Some things just do not mix well. Oil and vinegar. Electricity and babies. Matt Jonas and Nikola Suprak. We are the reason GameCola no longer holds monthly staff meetings, because with the two of us there, things always ended up in tears and hair pulling. Things started off when he defended the game he calls Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, but what is more commonly known as “that game that somehow gave my Xbox syphilis,” and further escalated when I stole the crown as the prettiest staff member to join the Back to the Future: The Game – Episode 3: Citizen Brown video talkthrough halfway through the recording. However, until now we have mostly been able to put our bickering aside and work together, in so much as he writes every single article on GameCola while I show up every ever month to do one recording and pass out in my own filth. From a statistical standpoint, there is actually a really good chance that Matt Jonas is the one who is writing this article right now, having hacked into my computer after learning some basic American slang in a desperate effort to make the site look like it has more than one writer.
This game is wiggity-wiggity-wiggity WACK.
(Note to self: find an updated version of my Dictionary of American-isms.)
Regardless of who the real author of this article is, all I know is that Matt Jonas and I can no longer work together. He has done something even more unforgivable than pretending to like Leisure Suit Larry: he scooped me on The Simpsons Arcade Game review. See, Paul assigned the game to me to review, and a combination of me being an incredibly lazy, good for nothing employee and my Xbox deciding it wanted to become a novelty paperweight and Red Ring of Deathing soon after I downloaded the game lead to a small, two-month window where my review was in limbo. And Matt seized upon this opportunity to publish his review in what Paul refers to as a “reasonable time span” and that we could just “publish two reviews” because “seriously your review has been in the queue for so long I alerted the authorities that you might be missing.” The worst thing is that Matt Jonas didn’t just scoop me, but urinated all over my childhood memories by giving The Simpsons Arcade Game a meager 6 in his review. It was as if Matt Jonas was on a mission to destroy my childhood itself. He has thrown down the gauntlet. And I am not one to back away from a challenge. The good name of The Simpsons Arcade Game must not be impugned, and I shall save its integrity from his so-so review.
TIME FOR AN INTERNET THROW-DOWN
I usually start by dissecting the story, but picking apart the story of any beat ’em up game is a lot like taking pot shots at a piñata, and the target is just so obvious and helpless that you almost feel a little bad for doing it. And picking apart the story from an early 1990s licensed beat ’em up arcade game is a lot like taking pot shots at a concussed piñata in a wheelchair, and it is just such an easy target that it might as well paint a bull’s-eye on itself and loudly voice its opinions on how ugly everyone’s wife is at an NRA meeting. Coloring books would reject these stories for being too stupid, and summarizing the story in front of grade school children would immediately drop their literacy rate. Stories in beat ’em ups are usually so bad that it isn’t even worth the time it takes to say that they’re bad. It would be like commenting that your cereal came in a box or that you buy shoes in pairs.
With that being said, I’d like to take a couple minutes to summarize the plot of The Simpsons Arcade Game, because to not do so would be to waste one of this game’s greatest gifts. The game begins with Smithers stealing a diamond from a jewelry store for his boss, Mr. Burns. It might seem odd that they are resorting to petty larceny when Mr. Burns has enough cash to buy the entire town, but maybe Smithers forgot his checkbook that day. On his way out of the jewelry store, he runs into the Simpsons family, and in a rather unfortunate mix-up, the diamond falls out of his hands and into the mouth of the baby, Maggie Simpson. Like any sane individual, Smithers decides the best solution to this problem is not taking the diamond out of Maggie’s mouth and continuing on his way, but straight up kidnapping her, and he runs off with the child with a look of joy on his face that I’ve only ever seen on To Catch a Predator. That’s right, Smithers, the same guy with the Malibu Stacy collection and all of the violent tendencies of an anesthetized pillow, steals a child because she had the misfortune of being near enough to something else he wanted to steal. Either the developers of this game had never seen a Simpson’s episode or I completely missed some subtext to some of the early seasons. Now, as one of the non-kidnapped members of the Simpson family, you must chase down Smithers and rescue Maggie before she is discarded wherever Mr. Burns puts his packages that aren’t diamonds.
Ignoring the nonsensical story that may as well focus on Apu and his magical boxing spider for how closely it follows the television show, the game itself plays like a fairly standard beat ’em up title. You control one of the four Simpson family members, and beat up any unfortunate goon that happens to stumble across your path. You travel across eight different levels, leaving behind so many similar-looking bodies in your wake that it looks like you’ve just declared war on a cloning factory. The game plays pretty much like you would expect most beat ’em ups from this era to play, with a jump button and an attack button and an everything-else-does-nothing button. There is a little bit of variety to the attacks, and you can either perform a jumping attack, a powerful attack, or a team attack if you aren’t a lonely misanthrope. The fundamentals of the gameplay are fairly solid and make for an enjoyable experience, especially if you can round up a group of friends so the whole Simpson family can deliver a beat-down. The controls are simple and straightforward, and the difficulty of the game is at the level where there is some challenge but it never becomes frustrating or unapproachable.
Still, while there is some mindless fun to be had in mashing the attack button into the face of a guy in a green suit attacking you with a broom, the game does run into some problems along the way. The teammate attack is oddly initiated by standing next to your partner and, uh, well…doing nothing. Not moving while you’re standing next to another character is the key to starting the attack, which is sort of a problem when hordes of enemies are closing in on you and standing still is a good way to get yourself killed. It would have been far more convenient to allocate one of the many unused buttons to starting the attack, as the team attacks are some of the more powerful tools you have at your disposal. Homer and Marge’s or Lisa and Bart’s attacks are fantastic for taking on a bunch of enemies at once, while the other combos are great for looking like an idiot while you try to get one of the good combinations to trigger instead.
The Simpsons Arcade Game also has the common problem that a lot of games in this genre suffer, which is that it is nowhere near as entertaining to play through on single player as it is on a team. Bludgeoning waves of enemies is just somehow more enjoyable with two or three other people around to divvy up the work, and yet incredibly depressing when you’re doing it by yourself. It is even more true in this game, because if you play through by yourself then it seems like three of the four members of the Simpsons household decided that saving Maggie really wasn’t that important and are still in the downtown area shopping.
“Ugh. Why waste time saving the baby when I can just make another?”
The game is a bit more complex than other beat ’em ups released in the same era, and the team attacks and weapon variety do help mix up the gameplay. It becomes brainless after a while, though, and the enemy variety is atrocious. The majority of the enemies are the same two guys: fat balding man, and skinny guy in a suit. Because of this, by the time you reach the end of most levels it looks like you’ve just wrought vengeance upon a John Mellencamp concert. They do mix up enemy attacks a little at least, and the suited man comes in plain vanilla flavor as well as hat-throwing and broom-sweeping varieties; but it would have been nice if the animators had decided to draw more than a handful of villains before knocking off early for lunch. Almost all enemies in the game suffer from a strange form of OCD where they will not attack you vertically in any way or even start an attack until they are on the same horizontal plane, which makes a lot of them really easy to exploit; you can just lure them into traps by moving around and waiting for them to come to you. In a weird way, though, this actually benefits the game, making it less frustrating than a lot of similar titles. Things can still get hectic when you’re being swarmed by enemies, but at least there is a bit of strategy in the fighting instead of just trading blows like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.
The game’s visuals also resemble the art style of the cartoon. A grainy version of the cartoon shown on a malfunctioning television in the middle of an electrical storm, maybe, but it’s at least recognizable. The levels are well detailed and generally impressive, even though they also reinforce the idea that the creators of the game have never seen the television show, or at the very least have a bizarre idea of the size of Moe’s Bar. You’ll travel through various locales that should be familiar to people who have watched the show, like the news station, the nuclear power plant, and…uh, the cemetery. The sound and music complement everything, as well, as the game reproduces music from the show and what sounds like either the actual voice actors or very close approximations. There are a couple of exceptions, and Smithers sounds like he is voiced by an evil accountant who doesn’t have a full grasp of the English language, but for the most part the technical bits are fairly impressive for an arcade game.
The face of child endangerment.
The best part of The Simpsons Arcade Game is that it’s actually a pretty good port. They could have released a version that flashed insulting messages about the player’s mom every other minute, and the nostalgia crazies would have still gone nuts for it because it allows them to play a game they used to play before life crushed their hopes and dreams. Instead, the game includes some unlockables and various other extras. The unlockables themselves are kind of boring, including the music and sound effects from the game at your immediate disposal, and a history of the game with marketing photos too small to be of any use to anyone unless their television is the size of a wall. There are actual good additions, however, including a leaderboard so you can keep track of your high scores, and both local and online co-op. There are a couple of other tweaks that improve the game, including allowing you to change the difficulty and the number of lives you play with. The best addition was the inclusion of the vastly superior Japanese version, which should pretty much just be considered the true version for now on. In this mode, all of the weapons are actually very effective and there are new power-ups, and collecting health items will continue to fill your life bar even if it is already full. While these tweaks might sound minor, they actually make the game more enjoyable than the American counterpart and make the gameplay more manageable.
So let’s see.
Add in points for the Japanese ROM.
Subtract some for Smithers’ voice actor.
Carry the x…